In search of L'Arche’s pioneer women

For some time, we have wanted to pay tribute to L’Arche’s leading pioneer women. The task seemed enormous, given how many women deserve to be honoured. These women have founded and co-founded communities in several different countries. Their steadfast efforts have given rise to the quality of community life that continues to make L’Arche so special after all these years.

Calling All L’Arche Communities

Today, as the world celebrates International Women’s Day, we are taking the opportunity launch a call-out. Do you know any of L’Arche’s pioneer women? We are looking for L’Arche’s early female founders, assistants and people with intellectual disabilities. 

Send us your suggestions, as well as any of your anecdotal photos or stories to We’d like to publish a small section on the topic of women in the early days of L’Arche.


Women’s Presence in the Founding of the First L’Arche Community in Trosly

From the story of its very early beginnings, L’Arche may seem to have been created by men and for men.

Founded by Jean Vanier in Trosly, France, the original L’Arche home was opened to welcome men. Raphaël and Philippe arrived first, with Jacques and Pierrot joining a little later. The home’s first assistants, Louis Pretty and Henri Wambergue were both men. Still in Trosly, Mr. Prat and Dr. Préault created the home Val Fleuri. A few months later, Jean Vanier would become Director of this exclusively all-men’s home.

And yet, L’Arche’s early stories were not just about men!

Right from L’Arche’s founding era, a number of women came to lend their strong hands to Jean Vanier.

Jacqueline d’Halluin took care of setting up the first homes.

Both social workers, Antoinette Maurice and Christiane Edé were there from the very beginning, helping in all sorts of ways.

Three months after L’Arche was founded, Sister Marie-Benoît came to work in the home. She was responsible for significantly improving the quality of the cooking!

Madame Bertrand, nearly 80 years old, lived in L’Arche’s neighbourhood.  Every night, she used to leave some soup at the front door.

Very quickly, other women started to arrive; these women were generous, determined and courageous. Some of them were very young and had to overcome extraordinary challenges as they fearlessly and sometimes singlehandedly founded the first L’Arche communities.

In Cuise-de-la-motte, several pioneer women were involved in founding the first women’s home!


The Pioneer Women of L’Arche Canada and Quebec

With the help of Beth Porter and Joe Egan, John Guido has put together this preliminary list of pioneer women in Canada.

  • Daybreak: Ann Newroth; Sue Mosteller (2nd Community Leader of Daybreak and International Coordinator following Jean Vainer)
  • Frontenac/Arnprior: MaryLou Halferty
  • Ottawa/Green Valley: Mary Charboneau and Lucille Champagne 
  • Sudbury: Peggy Keaney
  • North Bay: Claire Trahan
  • London: Claire Trahan
  • Stratford: Marjorie Pickersgill
  • Hamilton: Liz Organ Morelli
  • Victoria  Margaret O'Donnell
  • Vancouver Judie Leckie
  • Edmonton Doris Myers
  • Calgary  Jo Lenon
  • Lethbbridge  Adele Caron
  • Winnipeg Marie Paradis 
  • Cape Breton Ann Gunn
  • Wolfville Debbie Moore
  • Antigonish  Alana Gillis
  • Elizabeth Buckley Trosly
  • Susan Zimmerman

In the list below, you will find the names of the first women who helped found L’Arche Quebec’s first communities. Thanks to Patrice Paradis for research.

Georgette Gaudreault (Québec), Agathe Dupuis (Amos), Christiane Bernard (St-Malachie), Marie-Paule Villeneuve (Mtl) , Isabelle Robert et Cecile Jeannotte, Sophie Côté, Andrée Latendresse et Lucie Bellerose (Joliette), Geneviève Papillon, Gisèle Boisvert et Diane Vincent (Trois-Rivières), Danielle Jobin (Gatineau), Elisabeth Eudes-Pascal (Zizi) (Saint-Prosper).

Do you have any names we can add to these lists?

Tell us about these pioneers and share your anecdotes and photos!